Pedagogy in Practice: How we teach (and learn) in Development Studies

Topics Education

On 22-24 June, scholars and practitioners from across Australia and New Zealand came together at Murdoch University for the second annual Development Studies Pedagogy symposium. Through roundtable discussions, group and individual presentations, as well as fieldtrip activities, the 3-day event offered multiple perspectives on ‘How we teach in Development Studies’.

To begin the symposium Noongar elder Shaun Nannup provided a touching Welcome to Country, which drew attention to the significance of place by reflecting on the parallel rhythms of the human heartbeat and the sound of the Swan River lapping against its shore. Shaun’s emphasis on the need to be considerate to place became a guiding theme throughout the symposium, which took place on Whadjuk land.

Following Shaun’s welcome, former AusAID and UN employee Sisonke Msimang delivered an engaging keynote address on the importance of creating space for multiple viewpoints in Development Studies pedagogy. Through the telling of a story about the 2015 Rhodes Must Fall (#RMF) movement at the University of Cape Town (where South African student Chumani Maxwele threw excrement on a university statue of Cecil Rhodes), Sisonke asked the audience to consider how we may expand the repertoire of stories that we deploy in speaking to issues of development.

This call for multiple perspectives – and the associated challenge of decolonising Development Studies pedagogy – became a second key theme of the symposium. In a fascinating presentation by UNSW PhD Candidate Lauren Tynan, questions of decolonisation were explored through the need for pedagogies that are simultaneously reflexive to the Eurocentrism of much development studies knowledge, and attentive to local, place-based, knowledge. Similarly, Curtin University’s Yirga Woldeyes described his education experience as a process of detaching himself from the places (and knowledge-systems) where he spent his childhood.

In addition to an inter-related focus on place and decoloniality, one further theme that permeated the symposium was the importance of reflexive pedagogies that are sensitive to academic, student and practitioner positionality. In her discussion of ‘strategies for encouraging reflexive practice amongst development studies students’, Melbourne University’s Bina Fernandez stressed the need to be considerate of how the self is complicit in relations of power and knowledge that have consequences for inequalities, power and privilege. Similarly, in a personally reflexive presentation on becoming a Development Studies academic, UNSW’s Susanne Schmeidl described the need to consider histories of the self (personal and national) when studying or working abroad.

Such calls for more reflexive pedagogies were furthered through a number of tangible examples of teaching practice, including presentations by Rebecca Bilous and Kate Lloyd (Macquarie University), Paul Hodge and Bernard Kelly Edwards (University of Newcastle), and Cameron Tero and David Palmer (Murdoch University).

Murdoch University’s Pedagogy in Practice symposium built on and advanced 2017 dialogue at the inaugural Development Studies symposium, convened by James Cook University.

Two notably important additions that this year’s symposium added to last year’s discussions were:

  1. A more devoted attention to ‘practice perspectives’: achieved through a practitioner panel on modalities of development, and an informative presentation on the shifting development policy and practice landscape by ACFID CEO Marc Purcell.
  2. Explicit engagement with student perspectives: achieved through presentations by international students of the University of Western Australia’s Master of International Development.

The second annual Development Studies pedagogy symposium raised new questions about how we can better teach (and learn) international development. It further advanced important questions regarding how Development Studies pedagogies might respond to emergent shifts in the global development sector, and reconsolidated the strong collegial bonds that tie together scholars and practitioners of our community of practice.

Dr. Rochelle Spencer, Dr. Jane Hutchison, and the RDI Network must be commended for their efforts in pulling together a warm and intellectually engaging symposium.


Dr Kearrin Sims is the program convenor of James Cook University’s Master of Global Development program.

This post is based on an original blog featured on the Rethinking Development in Asia blog here.